One Bad Spin

For the rest of my life, I’ll never be anything but The One Who Left Mom Alone in the Car That Night. It’s like landing on the “bankrupt” wedge on Wheel of Fortune—no matter how well you’ve played the game, one bad spin undoes it all. I’ll never be Selfless Angie Who Took Mom in When No One Else Could Be Bothered or Sweet, Patient Angie Who Put Up with Mom’s Bullshit While Everyone Else Lived Their Best Lives—just Stupid, Careless Angie Who Left Mom Alone in the Car in the Wrong Neighborhood at 2 A.M.

In my defense—how’s that for the title of my memoir? In My Defense: The Angie La Rosa Story—I thought the 2 a.m. thing would work in my favor. Who the hell goes to QuikMart at two o’clock in the morning? And anyway, what could happen in three minutes?

I know it was three minutes because that’s the deal I made with myself: three minutes, not a second longer. Long enough to stretch my legs and buy one of those enormous 89¢ fountain pops you can only get at places like this. We’d been on the road since 7 a.m. because Mom couldn’t get it through her skull that her yearly trips to Boca weren’t a good idea anymore. There’d be consequences for drinking a quart-and-a-half of Diet Coke, but I’d been running a cost-benefit analysis since Kankakee and I decided I’d take the hit.

I was at the counter when I heard the first gunshot. At first, I didn’t panic. One gunshot is a question mark. But then the gun went off again, and that’s when I knew it was bad. If one shot is a question mark, a second one is a period. Sorry, Angie, you’re fucked. Full stop.

Through the door, stomach in my throat, mouth full of battery acid, and the first thing I saw was my mother. Why couldn’t you have just stayed in the car like I told you, Mom? The second thing was the man who’d just ruined my life. The last thing was the blood. Three things, in that order: Mom, man, blood.

“Jesus, Mom,” I heard someone say. Oh, right—me. “What the fuck did you do?”

Mom held the gun at her side as casually as she’d carried her orthopedic shoes on the beach last week. She used one foot to turn the body over so I could see what was left of the face. “Frank Marino’s oldest,” she said. “He recognized me, kitten. The little bastard went for his phone as soon as he saw me.”

Sure enough, there was Frank Junior’s iPhone on the pavement, a few inches from his stupid, dead fingers. Mom had broken every mob rule in the book when she dropped the dime on the Marino family six years ago, but things had worked out like she wanted: Frank Senior was in prison, the Marino family had imploded in his absence—backbiting shits, every one of them—my family had slid into the void they’d left in the local hierarchy of killers and thieves, and Mom had finally gotten the retirement she wanted. (It turns out the feds are disturbingly good at helping old ladies who turn state’s evidence fake their deaths.) Everything was fine until I had to stop in the old neighborhood for my Diet Coke fix at the exact moment Frank Junior decided what would really complete him was a gas-station burrito. Fuck me.

I couldn’t see the clerk through the window, but I had no doubt she’d already called the cops. For a few seconds I fantasized about driving away and leaving my mother in the parking lot for the police to deal with, because fuck them too, but then Mom was snapping her fingers at me and I slipped back into my default persona. Angie Who’s Forty-Two Years Old and Still Does Whatever the Fuck Her Mother Tells Her to Do, at your service. Mom shooed me into the driver’s seat, and we were back on the road before the first blush of blue light tinted my rearview mirror. 

Jesus, Mom. Why couldn’t you have just stayed in the car?


I watch the man I’m going to kill as he finishes his coffee and orders another. He doesn’t notice me—he’s too busy cataloging the younger women scattered around the diner to take interest in an aging housewife, and for a fleeting moment, I’m not sure how I feel about this. He would have noticed me twenty years ago; of that I have no doubt. Perhaps he would’ve taken me instead of my daughter, and then I wouldn’t be sitting here with a gun in my purse, waiting for a chance to put a bullet in his brain.

But for now, his empty eyes keep going back to the girl playing Bobby Vinton songs on the jukebox. When his partner comes out of the restroom, he’ll point her out. If they agree, the girl who loves Bobby Vinton won’t make it home tonight, or ever again.

I don’t know where he found Judith or when he decided to take her. Judith. The thought of her wraps a fist around my heart. My daughter, eighteen years old, with her lovely smile and her eyes the color of sea glass. I’ve imagined their meeting a thousand different ways. I wonder if he opened his car door for her, or if she opened it herself. I wasn’t there to stop her, but I tell myself you can’t watch them every minute of every day, no matter how badly you want to. So now I’ll follow a trail of corpses until I bring home whatever is left of her. I’ll catch him alone and empty his brains onto the pavement, because there’s nothing we won’t do for our children.

I’ve told the police about him, but they don’t believe me. They don’t see the red promise of these new roads. They’ve built 14,000 miles of interstate already, with thousands more on the way. Kennedy is a dreamer; whatever shining future he sees for America, he’s convinced the interstate will help take us there.

But the man I’m watching is not like Kennedy. I wonder what would have become of Judith if she hadn’t met him. All mothers think their daughters are special, but mine is different. I’ve known it since she was nine years old, when I watched her run from the woods behind our house, her mouth twisted in a sob for the tiny, bloody bundle she clutched to her chest. She found her father and led him to the edge of the woods—to the rabbit’s nest that waited there, full of little broken bodies. Dog got to them, my husband said as our daughter wailed. She felt things so differently than most. No wonder this man wanted her.

The restroom door opens, and his partner walks out. The fist that grips my heart squeezes it so tightly I fear it might turn to dust. I almost forget to hide my face in time.

Somehow, my daughter is even more radiant than she was before she slid into the passenger seat of this man’s car and whispered dreams of murder in his ear.

All mothers think their daughters are special, but Judith is different. I’ve known it since she was nine years old, when I watched her walk into the woods with my husband’s claw hammer. Dog got to them, he would say, as our daughter wailed her theater of grief for his benefit. Or, when she was thirteen and the little Harrison boy vanished, He’s just wandered off.

But I know the truth about Judith. I wasn’t there to stop her—you can’t watch them every minute of every day, no matter how badly you want to—so the little Harrison boy is mine to care for now. I’ll keep the weeds from his grave and mourn him while his parents wait for him to come home.

There’s nothing we won’t do for our children.

Judith takes her seat and leans across the table to hear what the man with empty eyes is whispering to her. But when she turns to follow his gaze to the girl at the jukebox, Judith’s eyes light on me instead.

My beautiful daughter smiles at me, and suddenly I wonder if I’ve brought enough bullets.

Blood and Red Tape

The man on the floor looks to be around 150 pounds, which means his body contained about five liters of blood. It seems like most of it has already leaked out onto the rotting linoleum of the old Half Time Deli on Route 431. The floor is slick with the stuff, and since I’m not nine feet tall, I can’t avoid stepping in it. I’m glad I traded my skirt and heels for jeans and boots before I headed out here.

The place was a shithole even before the health department shut it down years ago, but I always found it charming in the same way that I see a weird, busted-neon romance in boarded-up motor courts and abandoned drive-ins. I never really like a place until people decide it’s all used up. My therapist would probably dampen his boxers over that, if he could stop staring at my boobs long enough to hear a word I say. Did you know a judge can order you to see a shrink when you shoot somebody, even if said somebody deserved to be shot? Blood and red tape: the only constants in my life.